Where the Wild Things Are

2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Critics Consensus

Some may find its dark tone and slender narrative off-putting, but Spike Jonze's heartfelt adaptation of the classic children's book is as beautiful as it is uncompromising.

73%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 267

57%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 298,673
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Movie Info

Visionary director Spike Jonze brings Maurice Sendak's beloved children's book to the big screen with the help of hipster icon Dave Eggers, who teamed with Jonze to pen the adapted screenplay. A mixture of real actors, computer animation, and live puppeteering, Where the Wild Things Are follows the adventures of a young boy named Max (Max Records) as he enters the world of the Wild Things, a race of strange and enormous creatures who gradually turn the young boy into their king. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

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Critic Reviews for Where the Wild Things Are

All Critics (267) | Top Critics (56)

  • The minus I give this children's story pains me...If I had seen this film when I was eight, I would have been terrified.

    Jan 16, 2018 | Full Review…

    Ed Koch

    The Atlantic
    Top Critic
  • 'Where the Wild Things Are' stands out for its unusually potent evocation of the timbre of childhood imagining, with its combination of the outré and the banal, grand schemes jumbled up with delicate feelings and the urge to smash things up.

    Dec 11, 2009 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Ben Walters

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • It's all very charming and quirky... But it's also, ultimately, a little flimsy and unlikely to achieve anything like the iconic status of its source material.

    Dec 11, 2009 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

    Wendy Ide

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • Jonze's Wild Things is an altogether darker, colder picture: a film about the way children can lose their fear of the world only by losing their innocence.

    Dec 11, 2009 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • It moves smoothly from the sublime to the ridiculous, it inhabits the dual worlds of fantasy and reality, and articulates something profoundly simple about both.

    Dec 11, 2009
  • It is one of those films that reveals the power of film itself, and you can feel delighted that this beautiful story, with its oddness and its great capacity for wonder, has survived in a perfect way the transition to screen.

    Dec 11, 2009 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Where the Wild Things Are

  • Apr 14, 2014
    There's always a certain amount of trepidation when a filmmaker gets their hands on a book that you loved as a child. Even if we overlook the general risk that the whole project may become a cynical Hollywood cash-grab, the director's vision may be so different to your childhood imaginings that it ends up tarnishing the original experience, perhaps permanently. We find ourselves in precisely this predicament with Where The Wild Things Are. Maurice Sendak's 1963 book has become a classic in children's literature, beloved for generations and in various stages of development hell since the early-1980s. Spike Jonze is a director with a glowing reputation, but a seven-year gap between features isn't immediately reassuring. Fortunately, the results are very good, and while the film is by no means perfect, it remains a touching and compelling work. There has been a fair amount of debate as to whether Where The Wild Things Are can be called a children's film. Certainly its marketing didn't position it as such: its trailers played more on the indie cred of Jonze, highlighting the soundtrack work by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and using a re-recorded version of Arcade Fire's big hit 'Wake Up', which doesn't appear in the film. This is a touchy subject given that Sendak's book has become so iconic: surely any successful adaptation must be considered a children's film? Additionally, I've railed against many so-called children's films which are blatantly not for children - films like Ratatouille and much of Dreamworks' output, which are films aimed at an adult audience disguised as children's animations. But what becomes quickly apparent is that Jonze didn't want to make a typical children's film - not by a long shot. Instead, Jonze wanted to make a film about what it felt like to be a child - a film not just for children in a demographic sense, but about children in a behavioural sense. He wanted to capture the burgeoning, pre-pubescent energy of Max, exploring how his rage and frustration manifests itself as the Wild Things and how he comes to grow in realising how hard is it to govern one's personified rage. Certainly there's nothing about the film that could be called cutesy or sanitised, which comes as a relief given Disney's involvement in the early stages of development. The next issue that any adaptation would have to confront is the story. Where The Wild Things Are is barely 10 sentences long, and sure enough there isn't a great deal of plot in the film. In a more extravagant fantasy vehicle, such as the ongoing Hobbit trilogy, the paucity of story would either be stretched out with ancillary material or serve as a jumping-off point to take things in a new direction. But again, Jonze does it differently: he completely acknowledges the limits of the source novel, delivering a film which is more about mood than story. The visual tone of Where The Wild Things Are is one of whistful melancholy, into which the great pockets of childish energy can invade. The colour palette is rooted in earthy, wooden browns, pale yellows and the greys of faded stuffed toys, giving the world of the Wild Things an instant feeling of age and mystery. Lance Acord, who has worked with Jonze since Being John Malkovich, emphasises the scale of the Wild Things and their isolation; they tower over Max in the close-ups, but otherwise the landscape towers over them. In creating this whistful tone, Jonze succeeds in both rooting the angst of Max and conveying the way in which time passes for a child of his age. Young children do not have the same grasp of efficient narrative storytelling that we embrace as adults; in their fantasies they often feel like they've been away for years, even if they can't describe everything they did in that time. Jonze beautifully captures the feeling present in the book that Max's adventure is like a half-remembered dream - and, as a bonus, works around the fact that not very much happens. The film also deserves credit for the realisation of the Wild Things. Having toyed with various CG options between the early-1980s and mid-2000s, the creatures were eventually brought to life through the Jim Henson Workshop. Despite being partially created with animatronics, they have none of the creakiness or jerky movements that we associate with this form of puppeteering. And while some CGI was involved to sync up the dialogue with the characters' lip movements, they still have an amazing and distinctive physicality, without which the film would simply be a failure. This brings us on naturally to the cast, who are generally very good. James Gandolfini is the stand-out among the voice actors, bringing a lot of anger to the part of Carol but also conveying the age of the Wild Things. Catherine Keener doesn't get a great deal of screen time, but she does convey the sense of frustration that sets the story in motion. As for the lead, Max Roberts takes a little while to bed into the role, but his performances is naturalistic enough to be convincing in the end. The other great success of Where The Wild Things Are is its subtlety. The book has often been interpreted as a Freudian text, in which the Wild Things are different manifestations of Max's anger. The lazy thing to do in these circumstances would have been to divide up Max's personality traits and deal them out to the Wild Things, so that each one would represent something at the expense of proper characterisation. Instead, Jonze leaves it open to us to decide the different Wild Things' significance, letting us be as imaginative as Max is. There are a couple of small problems with Where The Wild Things Are. In spite of consciously addressing the lack of plot and the choice of pacing, the film still feels slow or baggy in places. For everything that I've talked about, and all the successes in Jonze's approach, there remains a nagging feeling that more could have been done with the characters, which would in turn have justified the cinematic scale. Another smaller problem is the sound mixing. While the musical soundtrack fits pretty well with the action on screen, at times it is difficult to discern what the Wild Things are saying, particularly during their first encounter with Max. This becomes less of a problem as the film goes on and the acting becomes more boisterous, but it prevents us from getting in the zone with the characters sooner, which may put younger viewers off. Where The Wild Things Are is a very interesting achievement which will go down as one of the most intriguing and original children's adaptations in recent memory. While not everything about the story or its execution is entirely satisfying, Jonze deserves a lot of credit for capturing the mood and tone of Sendak's story, and for his realisation of the titular creatures. Whether as a playful exploration of a child's imagination or a complex Freudian journey, it is something that remain with you for a very long time.
    Daniel M Super Reviewer
  • Aug 12, 2013
    "Wild thing, you make my heart sing, you make everything good!" I'm sorry, I just had to do that, and now that I have, I'm kind of nervous, because as if it's not dangerous enough for a little boy to be hanging out with a bunch of giant monsters, that song makes it sound like these lovable monster really do find the kid lovable as well, if you know what I mean... parents who were hoping that they had found some kind of children's entertainment nowadays that doesn't need some kind of mature innuendo to be enjoyed by the parents. Well, either a reference to "Wild Thing" in the context of this film makes me think of that, or that cool performance of "Wild Thing" that Jimi Hendrix did at Monterey Pop, and how this film's lead Max character could have landed on Elvis Island with the intention of bringing Hendrix back to the back which believes him to be dead. Looks like the kid got lost and ended up in Obscurity Junction, from which he has apparently pried Spike Jonze, as well as Lauren Ambrose and Catherine O'Hara, who hadn't been doing much for a while by 2009. Speaking of performers whose careers were kind of losing momentum by 2009, the makers of this film should have also picked up Jon Voight during their run through the Obscurity Junction, because, seriously, how cool would it have been to have Voight in a film about "Wild Thing", a song written by his brother, Chip Taylor (Man, Jon Voight probably isn't too popular in the family, because if he has a relative who makes it big in the entertainment industry, her or she has just got to get a different name)? Oh, woops, speaking of overactive imaginations, with all of my rambling on about "Wild Thing", I appear to have convinced myself that this film is about that song, and it doesn't help that this film is based on another property of the '60s that I'm surprised is marketable to today's kids. Some would say that this film's hardly making its budget back reflects youngsters' lack of interest in this property nowadays, but first off, I'd like to see you pull $100 million out of your pocket if it's such a disappointingly low gross revenue, and secondly, probably the reason why this film wasn't as revisited by families as the filmmakers were hoping is because it, as decent as it is, isn't as interesting as it perhaps could have been, and for several reasons. Chances are, one of your biggest fears when walking into this film is conventionalism, and as sure as sunshine, the film is rather formulaic, hitting more than a few familiar beats until ending up on a predictable path, like plenty of other family films of this type, and that's fine I guess, because you shouldn't be asking too much out of a family film, yet the laziness within the originality department would be much easier to ignore if it wasn't for a somewhat adult tone. The film seems to be mostly aimed at adult who are nostalgic for the wonderment of youth, and it's almost a nitpick to criticize this film for not being as kiddy as it could have been, but the limited focus in demographic targeting creates a kind of uneven tone which juggles dark tones which are bound to be unappealing to kids, as well as overly light tones that aren't exactly going to excite grown-ups, yet still isn't grown up enough to build all that strong of a story. The film does a pretty decent job of expanding upon Maurice Sendak's classic family fairy tale, and there's more potential than you might think for a rewarding, maybe even strong family flick here, but not exactly an abundance, because there's still a distinctly kiddy type of thinness within this subject matter's weight which softens the ground upon which the foundation that is this film is built, leaving the film to run the pretty real risk of collapsing into underwhelmingness under the weight of natural shortcomings, emphasized by issues within this execution of this improvable subject matter. The film clocks in at a little over 100 minutes, and by no means is that very long, but for a story this limited in kick, that's more time than this film needs, and it often goes achieved through overlong stretches of filler which slow down momentum, particularly when joined by, of all things, atmospheric dry spells, which are hardly all that severe, but still stand. The film certainly doesn't get to be as slow as something like Spike Jonze's "Being John Malkovich", and is more often than not reasonably entertaining, with genuinely fun moments, but those moments in which atmospheric kick dip leave you to meditate upon how kind of overblown this film is, because even with all of the heart which comes close to making a rewarding film, this effort could have been stronger, and perhaps would have been were it not for a palpable sense of ambition's emphasizing the areas in which the final product does not fulfill its potential. The film is endearing, and so considerably so that charm alone stands a chance of dragging the final product from the depths of mere decency and into unexpected rewarding heights, but alas, Jonze's heart ends up coming back to haunt him by reflecting the areas in which he fails to do what he set out to do, resulting in an emphasis on natural shortcomings that, when intensified by tonal and pacing problems, holds the final product back from genuinely rewarding. Still, the film comes close enough to really compel, being flawed and all, but ultimately quite enjoyable, even as far as musicality is concerned, at least to a certain extent. Much of the film's color is driven by its soundtrack, which would be great I guess if much of the music wasn't handled by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or rather, the No No Nos, resulting in pretty upbeat indie musical sensibilities whose lyrical touches are typically cheesy, with some questionably overstylized vocal interpretations, and whose underscore also gets to be a bit too fluffy for its own good, maybe even a touch bland, but not so much so that you can't appreciate the musical compositions behind this film, whose tenderly quirky tastes prove to be generally successful in adding to the effectiveness of this film's tonal color. The music often helps in giving you a sense of wonderment, and the location tastes also add to the kick of this fantasy flick, which works to avoid artificial and chroma key sets for the sake of celebrating dynamic and rich landscapes, into which you're bound to be drawn by tastefully grand cinematography by Lance Acord. The musical aspects are decent and all, but on a visual level, the film is kind of remarkable, and no matter how much the shortcomings in story undercut the potential color of this film, rather majestic visuals do justice a story deserving of a sense of wonderment. No matter how much this interpretation builds on Maurice Sendak's classic story of only 338 words, there's only so much to say here, but Sendak did that in a colorful fashion which can be expanded into a pretty engaging narrative, something that this film doesn't offer as much of as it probably should, but not from a lack of trying, as Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers turn in a clever script whose expansions often get to be a bit too carried away, but generally do a fine job of adding to the color of this mythology, as well as depths of its subject matter, thanks to well-rounded characterization and sharp filler. The script isn't too terribly strong, as it is unable to save the final product from a collapse into relative underwhelmingness under the weight of shortcomings within this story's concept and written execution, but it is ultimately commendable for its wit and heart, brought to life by direction by Jonze which is also flawed, but has a certain tender tone which soaks up subtle entertainment value and dramatic weight, and whose compellingness goes arguably topped by colorful portrayals of colorful characters. First off, I would like to say that the effects of the monsters, or, if you will, "Wild Things", are pretty outstanding, seamlessly combining practical and digital effects in order to bring the non-human characters to relatively convincing life, but not alone, as James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, Forest Whitaker, Catherine O'Hara and Paul Dano all deliver on thoroughly colorful voice performances which capture the memorable, if occasionally obnoxious depths of the "Wild Things" who represent a child's imaginative interpretation of people and relationships, while young leading man Max Records also delivers in capturing the wonderment and layers of a boy looking to escape reality through his own overactive and sometimes somewhat dark imagination. There's more subtlety to this family fantasy flick's thematic depth than you might think, and such brightness further reflects a hefty deal of potential which is ultimately betrayed by the film's shortcomings and near-desperate ambition to be more than what it is, but not so much so that the final product isn't brought to the brink of rewarding by color and heart which go a long way, even if they don't go far enough carry the film as far as it could have and perhaps should have gone. When the fantasy has faded, you're left with the harsh reality that conventionalism, tonal uncertainty, atmospheric slow spells, dragging and a sense of overambition emphasize the natural shortcomings of a promising story enough to drive the final product just short of rewarding, but not so short that colorful score work, grand locations, - celebrated beautifully by immersive cinematography - exceptional effects and a colorful story, done justice by clever writing, heartfelt direction and across-the-board strong performances, aren't able to make Spike Jonze's interpretation of "Where the Wild Things Are" adequately entertaining, sometimes compelling and ultimately quite enjoyable for kids and adults, if rather held back. 2.75/5 - Decent
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • May 01, 2013
    Where the Wild Things Are is a movie that is to be admired more than actually liked. It has many grown-up viewpoints about life, but is often in need of a sense of fun. It is too serious, and not quite as wondrous as it could've been. Overall Rating: 53
    Bradley J Super Reviewer
  • Nov 18, 2012
    Often moody and somber, Spike Jonze's 'Where the Wild Things Are' is strangely an emotionally hefty film. The pathos created is unexpected, but captures the tone of the film well. I've never seen a film so vividly encompass the emotional roller coaster we call childhood. A great soundtrack and amazing imagery definitely work in the movie's favor. A solid film, but it ends on a note that really isn't too upbeat, which is surprising for a film about a children's book. Jonze has definitely captured the soul of childhood, but the real question is whether or not he can capture his audience.
    Kase V Super Reviewer

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